January 5, 2011

2010 LGBT issues in the Church: optimism or pessimism?

I’m taking this topic from Joanna Brooks and John-Charles Duffy at Religion Dispatches who are optimistic and pessimistic respectively about what 2010 said about LGBT issues in the Church.

To summarize briefly, Duffy says that the Church’s movement toward accepting “sexual orientation” (a phrase it was not averse to using in 2010) due to scientific discourse and national dialogue means little if Mormons still think that God says “acting on your homosexual attractions” is wrong.

Brooks says that the wrangling of the grizzly bear known as Boyd Packer in October was a sign that the Church is moving away from its Prop 8 days and toward pluralist surrender that “sexual orientation” is here to stay — implying that the Church might be more open in the future to what others say about “sexual orientation.”

What I think is missing from this discussion, however, is the fact that the "attraction/behavior" distinction that the Church uses intrinsically fails when people don’t accept sexual orientation, because without it, they’re liable to think of “attractions” (or same-sex thoughts) as “actions” that are sinful.  Thus, the Church could be moving toward “sexual orientation” as normative as an internal anti-bullying mechanism, aside from scientific discourse and national dialogue.  The Church wouldn't be accepting same-sex attraction as a "real" thing (or an "eternal" thing), but it would be used as a linguistic device to relieve steam and maintain the heterosexist status quo.

The question for the coming years would be whether making a same-sex orientation normative would eventually render obvious the double-standard of no same-sex intimacy.  I think the answer to this question is yes — regardless of all those gay Mormons (and their spouses) willingly entering mixed-orientation marriages.  But as I’ve said elsewhere, there will be more fine-tuning of the funnel before the funnel is discarded as broken.  Personally, I think of the funnel as the “sexual orientation classification system,” but you can call it “heterosexuality only” if you want.   Anyway, there’s the grizzly issue of “eternal gender” in the mix, too...

(x-posted here).


  1. I wonder what the demotion of the Proclamation in Packer's talk means? I'm sure there are some folks who really want to see it get canonical status. And it seems like the corrected version of his talk ended up making a (perhaps more striking than intended) statement that it is definitely not canon (at least not yet).

    As for eternal gender... I'm not entirely sure that the idea of eternal gender is antithetical to gay folks. If gender didn't matter to us, we wouldn't be insisting on the right to be in relationship with a person of the same gender. Embodiment is important in Mormon theology; the fact that we get a fullness of joy only in bodies is a major selling point in Mormon theology as far as I'm concerned. If I'm going to have a fulfilling eternal relationship, I want it to be with someone that I am attracted to, not just emotionally and spiritually but physically as well. Doesn't that make sense? Do I really want to abolish some concept of eternal gender?

    The problem for gay folks, I think, is not necessarily eternity of gender but hierarchy of gender/sexuality. And theology around hierarchy gets really interesting when you consider that some of the central statements in scripture around hierarchy being things like, "the last shall be first" and "the servant is greater than the master," etc.

  2. Hi. If you are apt to accept "eternal gender," then I would pose a few questions.

    1) How would you explain the "heterosexual" man who is unwittingly attracted to someone with a penis and doesn't know the person has a penis? Might sound like a Jerry Springer scenario, but where exactly is the location of gender?

    2) In imagining gay/lesbian couples in the Church, it ultimately wouldn't make sense to ordain two men, but ordain neither of the women. At what point shall the "last" actually be the "first" (resolving some inequalities) as opposed to those aspects of the theology merely being used to instill humility and maintain the status quo?

    Personally, I see the Proclamation, in many ways, as a reaction to feminist and queer politics (as well as other societal changes in the "family") in the latter half of the 20th century. I have difficulty seeing its issue as enlightened. Sure, it might have been a sustaining of fundamentals of the faith as the faith has manifested over the last two centuries (minus polygyny), but within the Proclamation, an eternity of gender is intrinsically linked to a hierarchy. The world has moved on in many ways, even since 1995. Women are ordained in many faiths. LDS women work outside the home as much as other American women.

    In what ways will the Proclamation be read 20 years from now, if we live in a society that has gay marriage and a female president? Moving forward, I can't see the Church doing anything but demoting the Proclamation in many respects.

  3. Oh, and another thing that often gets left out of this topic is the change in life expectancy from the 19th century to now. It used to be that marriage and child-rearing was all adulthood consisted of and then you died. Now that people live into their 80s and 90s, LDS gender roles that focus on early adulthood and the act of reproduction and parenting, and then maintain a gendered hierarchy for the entire remaining life course seems rather, well, sexist (just as Mormon polygyny was rather sexist). It might be a "beautiful" set up for those indoctrinated in the faith, but if I were to attend church again, I see myself being more annoyed at the gender hierarchy than the fact that I can't bring my boyfriend.